Making Room for Empathy and Failure
User-centered design hopefully isn’t a new concept to someone who’s been working in design over the past decade. In tackling a design problem, a designer’s first questions might typically be “Who are you serving?” and “What are your goals?”. After gaining the perspective of the problem from the stakeholder(s), designers tend to want to get down to the business of quick prototyping and user testing — all before investing time in building it. The bigger challenge is usually not the process of designing something, but in succeeding at communicating the value of user-centered design to the stakeholder(s).
We, as designers, are striving to be others-serving. But that’s not necessarily about delivering exactly what the client or the user thinks they want. In our design challenge, we are focusing on developing “design empathy” as the crucial key to our process. It’s a “fundamental cultural value that allows our designers to develop concepts, products, services, strategies, and systems that are both innovative and responsive to actual user needs and desires.” “Understanding the problem always starts with researching the audience, but it’s not about ‘just talking to people’…. ‘Experiencing it develops empathy, which leads to innovation’.” How do we put ourselves directly in the shoes of a user?
One technique is creating user personas to help us understand the users. A user persona is a representation of a real person, including aspects of their identity, habits, stories, and motivations — the stuff we might get from interviewing the users directly. “Personas can be a way to drive home the idea that your users may not be like you. It can help a team think through what the needs might be for other types of people. What are some of the consequences for people whose lives are different than mine, whose needs are different than mine? That is an example of how you can successfully use personas as a tool to start the conversation.” When evaluating your early prototype(s), you can assume the role of a particular user persona and walk through it from their perspective.
Audrey recently had the opportunity to attend a keynote at SXSW Interactive given by Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots, of Google[x]. He talked about his team’s design process and, in particular, how productive failure is what helps the team to learn. “If you’re not failing at least some of the time, you could be learning faster… You don’t learn much from ‘we won today’.” As designers, we’re continuously striving to innovate, to create something that didn’t exist before that solves a real problem. “The process of innovation is messy, it’s expensive and uncertain… We have a process that we call rapid evaluation. So, the way we do that is we try to fail quickly… If we can get to a no quickly on an idea, that’s almost as good as getting to a yes.” Failure is valuable in the process of learning. “Everyone is familiar with ROI, but very few people quantify the value of ROL, or ‘Return on Learning.’… Change through incremental improvements is often easier than seeking a ‘radical new idea’.” No design is perfect straight out of the gate, so building in room for quick failure in the short run and iterative improvements in the long run. We want to build that room for fast failure early in the design process, rather than wait for the big fail at the end of all that work and expense.
All of the design concepts and theory will amount to little more than academic exercises if our design can’t get and keep new users. Getting people to adopt something new requires a targeted approach. For our design we need to find ways to get users from past classes do change their daily routines in ways that include our design solution. As we conceptualize our design we “should expect to face luddites, people who aren’t naturally tech-savvy, and naysayers whose knee-jerk reaction is to oppose new things.” (Knight) As we conceptualize, we need to make sure we focus on something that is a blend of form and function. “Functionality is critical, but so is user-friendliness.” (Knight) Our student interviews revealed that some potential users like the use of graphics and simplicity in the social technology they use. While these are ideas are on our minds now, we need to make sure they stay present in our design as we move forward.
As we move forward we to make sure we articulate why former students should reconnect with the CI597 community. We have to “Help [former students] understand what’s in it for them”. (Knight) That incentive could be simply reconnecting with grad student life by being apart of this community or a chance to talk about a topic they enjoy with like-minded people. What we need to is be able to identify a few potential incentives and be able to communicate them effectively. To accomplish that, we will have to reach out to a few key potential users who are still in touch with a wider network of former students. Getting others to use our solution could be easier if these influential users use and endorse our design.
One way to get the influential users to sign off on our design is to find a way to make it a part of their routine. “As soon as reasonably possible, try to “institutionalize” the new technology” (Knight). An example would be users would check “Disruptive Tech” before they go to bed or while they eat lunch nearly every day. We have 10-20 seconds during the initial visit to our design to get a potential user to stay and engage the community (Nielsen). In that time we need to show that potential user a solid design that brings them back into the CI597 community.
Design of Experiences
A facet of design thinking is thinking beyond function to include the design of experience as we live in the age of what others have termed the “experience economy.” At the highest level of ourselves is the need for deep, meaningful experiences. We are moving away from passive consumption toward active participation and engagement brought on by societal changes ushered in by emerging technologies. This means there is now a desire for experiences that are inviting and require participation. This offers the user agency “to seize opportunities when and where they see them and giving them the tools to create unscripted experiences” (Brown, p. 123).
This shifts the focus of our design challenge to “What experience do we hope to create for our users and how do we create it?” Our design is not merely about creating a space to connect past and present students but designing an environment to potentially facilitate the experience of meaningful conversation. As the Cluetrain Manifesto reminds, “human discourse are based on communities–on human speech about human concerns.” Leveraging interactive tools or social media networks are technologies that can allow discourses around disruptive technologies, ones that have started in class, to continue and communities to grow. This builds on Paul Ford’s suggestion to give members of a community tools to consult amongst themselves.
- IDEO: Empathy on the Edge: Scaling and sustaining a human-centered approach in the evolving practice of design (PDF)
- Designing for Empathy and Retention: Five lessons from an intimate evening with IDEO’s top designers
- Best Practices on Creating Effective Personas Tips from Salesforce UX
- Watch how Google X Employees deal with failure (video)
- Change by Design by Tim Brown Ch. 5 – Returning to the Surface, or the Design of Experiences (in Yammer)
- Convincing Skeptical Employees to Adopt New Technology
- How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?